We're not sure what it is about the home theater, but one screen just isn't enough. So we've tried for years to find another screen suitable to join our HDTV to enhance our viewing pleasure, but everything comes up short. The latest in the long line of touch screen remotes, tablet PCs, PDAs and smart phones is the iPad. Of course this device isn't exactly designed to be a home theater device, so a little software is necessary to make it suitable. The latest attempt at said software is from TiVo which is designed to be a companion app for the TiVo Premier. It doesn't let you stream video from your TiVo to your iPad, but it does have a few tricks we think you might find more useful, so go ahead and click on through to find out what those are.
Gallery: TiVo Premiere App for iPad review | 39 Photos
Great gesture controlsNew way to discover contentEasier than ever to manage your recordings
Slow to launchNo fast app switchingNo grid guide
So there you are sitting, on your couch with your favorite person, watching your favorite shows and when you wonder, where do I know that guest star from? You grab your iPad stuffed between the cushions of your couch and launch the TiVo Premier App, which syncs over WiFi and opens automatically to the current show. You browse a bit and discover every single show the actor in question has ever been in and can quickly schedule future recordings featuring him without ever interrupting the others in the room. The app is good for more than just avoiding a few internet searches on your laptop though. You can also use it as a remote and even to search your TiVo for new shows without resorting to the on-screen keyboard. The idea is a great one and honestly TiVo's attempt is one of the best we've seen.
One of TiVo's biggest wins for this app is the gesture controls. They are completely optional and include an easily-accessible cheat sheet to help you learn or remember how to use 'em. Ultimately, it succeeds where many other touch screen remotes fail by making it easy to control the action on your HDTV without looking at the remote. Fast forward, skip, navigation, all the basics are there and implemented in a way that makes sense. You don't have to use the gestures if you don't want to, but one we thing you will want to use is the touch screen scrub bar. We really enjoyed being able to slide a scrub bar with our finger to find just the spot we were looking for, and this was one of the things the touch screen remote can truly do better than its hard button cousin. The other thing it clearly does better is search and browse. Some really like the TiVo Slide Remote, which is nice if you want to drop the extra cash on it, but having the full-screen keyboard available for searching is very convenient.
One thing we couldn't search for, though, was a TV channel. Not a big deal for fans of dramas and sitcoms, but sports fans will need to figure out which channel their team is on some other way since the iPad app will only let you find future events. Speaking of search, it isn't fast; in fact, it's nowhere near as fast as search is on the TiVo itself, but as a plus the results are delivered more clearly and can quickly be turned into a WishList recording or lead to browsing and discovering of new content.
It's very obvious that TiVo was trying to build on its Discovery Bar in its iPad app and for the most part it's a success. You can quickly get lost and forget where you started because you become engrossed in the content. You can start with a show, actor, or whatever and quickly find yourself seven degrees in any direction, including a Netflix or Amazon VOD selection. We really appreciate the new way to find a show we'd like, but sadly the traditional approach is a bit neglected. The TiVo Live Guide is great, but it isn't perfect, and it's not a complete replacement for the old fashioned grid guide, which is completely omitted from the app. This combined with the lag in the population of the guide, makes it a bit of a drag to use. You can filter out the channels you don't receive or only show your favorites though, and while you can easily go straight to any time you'd like, there's no shortcuts to prime time, the time when new shows usually come on. Speaking of time, when you do choose to jump into the future and Explore the actors etc, when you go back to the guide, you leave the future and return to the here and now, which isn't what we'd expect.
Besides being a great way to discover new content and control the TiVo from the same device, our favorite feature is being able to manage our ToDo List and Season Pass priorities without preoccupying the TV with something other than HD content. You can drag and drop the shows into any priority you'd like -- it still takes forever to commit, but at least you can watch TV while it does it now -- and quickly / simply cancel recordings or clean up recorded shows you'll never watch. The day-to-day maintenance is the best we've experienced on a TiVo, and the only time we've ever been close is in the old TiVoWebPlus days, many years ago.
All that being said, the conflict resolution when scheduling new recordings is exactly the same as it is on the TiVo, and that's not a good thing. With the touch screen interface, it seems TiVo could find a better way to make hard decisions than just asking you simple yes or no questions. This isn't the only time we thought to ourselves, "there must be a better way," with the other being while watching sports and looking for an easy way to jump around to different games. Controlling the dual-live buffers is exactly the same as the physical remote, which is a shame since it is kinda hidden there and its just a big missed opportunity. We guess what we're saying is that we wish the thought that went into enhancing viewing of regular TV, also went into the viewing of sports programming.
While we're complaining, we might as well get the biggest gripe off our chest. We've had connection problems from the very beginning, and while the latest version of the app is better, it never could find our TiVo the first time we've launched it. A quick out-and-back-in usually does the trick, but even when it does find it, there's nothing fast about the process. It isn't a total exercise in patience, but what's worse is the app doesn't resume when you use fast app switching. You can see from the video that the re-launch time isn't unbearable, but TiVo most certainly has some work left to do in this area. Our final gripe is that, unlike the typical TiVo remote, you can't control your TV's power and volume. Now, obviously the iPad doesn't have an IR emitter and that isn't TiVo's fault, but we know TiVo knows a thing or two about IR blasters and would love to see the app leverage an IR blaster or IP control in the future to cut down on the back and forth between the old school remote and the iPad.
After all the good times and bad times, we must say that the TiVo Premiere App for iPad is a great couch companion. It adds value beyond just replacing the traditional remote, without sacrificing much. Other than a few functions, you can completely throw away the original remote and have a single point of contact between you and your content. Sure, it's a bit slow at times, but even with the wait times, it can still accomplish many tasks quicker than you can via the traditional TiVo user interface. The bottom line is it's the best iPad App for controlling home theater gear that we've ever used, and it totally shows that TiVo "gets" what we mean when we say we want a couch companion. It's far from perfect -- no content streaming, for example -- but for a free app, it's a no-brainer to download for TiVo Premier owners and maybe even the final straw that breaks the inhibitions of those waiting for a reason to upgrade.